ANOTHER VIEW

FAR opens the door for electronic procurement

Jeffrey S. Robinette

The Federal Acquisition Regulation Council in 1995 streamlined rules for buying commercial items, but the rules have only recently caught on with federal contracting offices.

Solicitations with provisions that refer to FAR Part 12 are now becoming widespread.

Agencies moving toward electronic commerce should consider jumping on the bandwagon. The simplified, flexible acquisition procedures under FAR parts 12 and 13 are ripe for automation'more so than those for most other government procurements.

FAR Part 12 governs the acquisition of commercial items, with regulations that are generally the least restrictive available. The rules apply only to the acquisition of commercial items, but FAR 52.202-1's definition of a commercial item is broad enough to include most of the supplies and services bought by the government.

Basically, to qualify as a commercial item, a product needs to have been offered for sale, lease or license to the general public; a service needs to have been offered and sold competitively.

Deidre Lee, the Defense Department's procurement director, recently pointed out that the federal marketplace is difficult for commercial providers to serve because of DOD's many unique requirements and its culture.

But the acquisition of commercial items, which make up a significant portion of the federal market, is a potential exception that provides a common ground for contracting officers and commercial providers.

Under FAR Part 12, for example, a contracting officer can use the simplified acquisition procedures of FAR Part 13'streamlined procedures normally restricted to acquisitions under $100,000'to acquire commercial items worth up to $5 million.

The terms under FAR Part 12 acquisitions are also abbreviated. Under FAR Subpart 12.3, contracting officers essentially need only incorporate parts of two clauses, FAR 52.212-4 and FAR 52.212-5, in their contracts. More important, FAR Subparts 12.6 and 13.5 give contracting officers a lot of flexibility in choosing procedures and making source selections.

Even in industry, enterprisewide, procurement, financial and logistics systems typically aren't implemented in turnkey fashion. Most companies and agencies develop integrated systems over time by connecting proven independent systems and processes.

Similarly, federal officials have no reason to believe that all-encompassing e-commerce or procurement processes can or need be created. Feds should focus on areas that are primed for automation, such as FAR parts 12 and 13. The rules are relatively simple, concern definable products and services, and allow flexible procedures that can be standardized in short order.

Jeffrey S. Robinette is a lawyer in the government contracts group of Reed Smith LLP in McLean, Va.

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